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Yeasayer’s Chris Keating says ‘Just go with the flow’

Photos by Marc Fong // Written by Molly Kish //

Showbams had the opportunity to speak with Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating while the Brooklyn-based band was in San Francisco.


Showbams: I know you and Anand grew up in Baltimore and played in a band in high school together. Were you both in a barbershop quartet?

Keating: Sort of (laughs). We kind of went to a school that was very small and had a lot of theater going on. We did everything that you could possibly do in terms of singing and acting and all that kind of normally really dorky stuff. It actually probably was really dorky, we just really enjoyed anything that had to do with trying out. Like different musicals and theater and all that stuff, that seemed really cool to us! It was a school that had a really good emphasis on being creative and we didn’t have a football team or anything like that. Everyone sort of engaged in theater and different kind of creative pursuits, even the kids would normally not do that kind of thing.

Showbams: Ira, who is Anand’s cousin, and Jason came aboard in 2006, when you guys were relocating back to New York to form what the band has now become today. Do you feel like having this history, with the strong ties between you guys as both family and long term friends has played a significant role in the bands success? Or was it a little more difficult having that kind of background together?

Keating: Um, I mean it probably helped in terms of … well, I don’t know, there was never really another option for us to break up? I mean, growing up together, Anand and I have been friends for so long, it sort of keeps you well, and you’re just in it! You’ve been friends since you were ten years old anyways. You’re going to have disagreements in the studio, and natural tensions that arise on tour and while songwriting, just like any band does. But, they’re never that severe, because you’ve been friends forever. Any challenge seems really do-able.

Showbams: I know that between 2007-2010, amidst releasing your first two full-length albums, you guys were really busy touring with MGMT and Man Man, playing heavily on the festival circuit and contributing to the Dark Was the Night compilation, amongst many other projects. In 2008, you took part in one of the more memorable “La Blogotheque” sessions post-show at the Nouveau Casino. Can you go into a little more detail on how that experience for was for you guys?

Keating: Yeah, we were familiar with the project and I’m sure that we all agreed to do it at some point. But I think that this was our first show in Paris and you know in the early days, driving all over Europe by yourself, you’d get to the venue just in time to play and you’d be wiped out by the end of the show. The last thing you want to do is an impromptu performance, somewhere in Paris (laughs).

But it actually turned out being great, and I think even though our hesitancy to do it was reflected in that movie, it made it really interesting. We since have become really good friends with the guys that do it and Vincent Moon, who is one of the creators of the project — we continue to run into them all over the world, like in Argentina and Australia or different places like that, just randomly on the street. I swear that we are somehow connected to him. It’s very weird. I mean, we don’t even talk that much, but we’ll just run into him all over the world. That’s what he does now, travel and make music documentaries, so you know.

Showbams: Did you guys ever really have any route that you wanted to go in that session, or were you just kind of rolling with it and seeing what happens?

Keating: With that project in particular, we had no idea what we were doing. I mean we were just like whatever, wherever you want to go. So we ended up in the metro and someone’s apartment, I don’t even know whose apartment that was (laughs) … I don’t even actually remember how we got home. I also don’t remember where we stayed; it was kind of very vague. But often times, that is the best thing you can do, just go with the flow.

Showbams: In April of that year you guys released End Blood for Record Store Day. Was this an intended release date, or did it just fall into place naturally?

Keating: Yeah, well, the temples of culture for me growing up were video stores and record stores. Unfortunately, those places are few and far between nowadays, so when the opportunity like that comes to make something physical for a release that’s all about independent record stores, then it becomes a nice chance to do that.

Showbams: In that sense, what’s your favorite way to release new music and discover new music yourself?

Keating: My favorite way to release it, having said that, I’m a fan of the physical releases, but at the same time, I really appreciate the model that happens with a lot of hip-hop and electronic music in which different artists release something as soon as it’s done, almost as a trial run. I know people like Four Tet and Gold Panda or Kanye, you know throw something out on the Internet or their website for people to comment on. I think it’s really interesting to know that something was done that week and it’s already out there, as opposed to the normal six-month lag time between making an album and it actually becoming a physical release. I think that’s interesting and it’s important to embrace, but at the same time, I’m staring at my vinyl collection right now and I enjoy listening to albums. I feel like some of the best songs on albums are not necessarily the singles. That’s why it always becomes a treat to put on an album; you have to flip over the sides.

Showbams: With Fragrant World this past December, you debuted tracks via your website’s visual scavenger hunt before the official release date. This was a really interesting take on avoiding the whole piracy issue and became a very incorporating experience for your fans. Whose decision was it to release the album that way?

Keating: I don’t know whose initial idea it was, I just know that you have to embrace the idea of YouTube or the fact that if you don’t make visual content for your songs, someone else will. Sometimes that might be a good thing and other times that could end up being a blurry photograph of the band from 6 years ago spiraling around, so … being in a band for me, some of the most exciting things you get to do is collaborating with visual artists, producers or other talented people in the industry.

Yoshi was a video artist whose work I really enjoyed, and the project became a nice excuse to collaborate with him. I was like, “Hey, do you want to make visuals that are not going to be videos and that are not going to come out on TV? You can do whatever you want, make it your vision.” We told him vaguely what we thought it should look like, and he just ran with it for every song and it turned out really well.

Showbams: After catching you guys at the Fox in Oakland, the videos seem almost directly correlated with the new set design on the tour and had a lot of similar elements to it. You guys are generally known to have a pretty intense visual show. What was the direction and inspiration behind the latest Yeasayer stage?

Keating: Yoshi’s videos definitely influenced the look of everything, and in general, I kind of really enjoy fully immersive art environments, where artists are taking over an entire space. Like some of the art movements that were started in the 60’s, for instance by Dan Flavin and James Turell. I find the spaces that they create to be incredibly powerful and moving and beautiful. So, in taking a cue from some of those artists, I try to just craft a stage show that’s a little more immersive and exciting than your standard rock club light show, which becomes a challenge because we’re up on a stage and you can’t take over the whole club. Then, you have to make something that can move every day you know, we’ve got set up and break down in a few hours.

My idea originally was to take over every space and have the audience involved in the light show, if we had millions of dollars we could totally try and do that. Or time, if we had more time, we could do it without the money. If we just had like 2-3 days between every show.

We were really fortunate to have The Creator’s Project back the project. We worked with a really great designer who’s based on the West Coast named Casey Reas and an architecture firm who we all collaborated together with to form an amazing dedicated team who comes on tour with us. They are pretty much like an extension of the band. They really make it happen every day.

Showbams: How did you guys first get affiliated with The Creators Project?

Keating: The directors of the three videos that we made on our last album were a team, Kirby and Julia. They go by the name of “Radical Friend” and made the video for “Ambling Alp”. They’re good friends of mine, and they got involved with “The Creators Project” through making videos for us and other people. They initially told me about it. It just seemed like a great organization, in that every artist I liked was being linked through this broader thing called “The Creators Project,” and I wanted to know what it was. So, I went to a couple events, DJ’d one for them and then slowly started the conversation of whether it was possible to do a touring show instead of just the one-off shows they were doing. I know they did something in the Bay Area and in New York, London, Seoul and Beijing I think. I thought it would be interesting to take the show all over the country and then all over Europe.

Showbams: I know you guys are smack dab in the middle of touring right now, and from your updates, have just found out there’s a new baby in the mix?

Keating: Yeah, Anand’s wife gave birth right in the middle of tour! A lot earlier than was expected, we were on our way from New Orleans to Atlanta, and he had to jump off the bus and literally run to a plane to fly home. It’s amazing. I mean, for the full view you should really talk to him, but you know the idea or the fact that I’m getting to a point where I have friends who have children, but then I still also have friends who I feel are like 19 years old. I feel like I’m right in the middle of this kind of opposing spectrum of adulthood, which is totally bizarre for me. It totally changes your perspective on everything when you see this little person brought into the world.

Showbams: Besides finishing up the tour, what else does Yeasayer have in the works for the future?

Keating: Lots of touring, we’re doing this Coachella cruise thing. I’m excited for that. I’ve never been on a cruise before, so that should be interesting. After that, we’re going to Australia and Japan, and after that, I hope we get to take some time off. We have some other projects in the works, some film-related and other side projects we’d like to focus on.

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Comments

  1. Be sure to click on the link to Yoshi’s Sodeoko’s site, this guy’s got quite the portfolio!

  2. He seems like a nice guy – informative, great interview

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